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Women Making History, Part 3

Participants in Panavision’s interview series reflect on the importance of mentorship.

The Women Making History interview series continues, with Panavision President and CEO Kim Snyder steering the conversation toward mentorship. Here, the participants share insights gleaned from mentors and mentees alike.

Read the rest of the series here:
Part 1: On the impact of Women’s History Month

Part 2: On valuable career advice
Part 4: On career highlights

Part 5: On inspiration

Kim Snyder (President and CEO, Panavision): What role has mentorship played in your journey?

Laura Merians Gonçalves (cinematographer): I’ve had so many mentors, and they’ve all been valuable teachers in different ways. It’s important to have people on speed dial that you can ask anything — I consider them my Jedi counsel.

Cinematography is a craft, so it's essential to have skills handed down. I strongly believe in mentorship. I've mentored for Local 600, and I also mentor a lot of young men and women. I make sure I have a trainee, not just in the camera department, but also in grip and electric, where women are still scarcely represented. Since I didn't go to film school, I believe mentorship is how people become poised for success.

Laura Merians GonçalvesLaura Merians Gonçalves

Patti Lee, ASC (cinematographer): I’m so thankful for the support I’ve received throughout my career. One DP I was gaffing for, Victor Nelli Jr., who is now a director, really made a huge difference in my life. I learned so much about shooting television — not just how to juggle prep, shoot and post, but more importantly how to navigate the set politically.

I'm glad to now be doing the same for others. I've been co-chairing the ASC Vision Mentorship Program since its inception 4 1/2 years ago and have taken on mentees throughout the program. It's great getting feedback from them, especially when some of the advice works!

Terra Bliss (managing director, Panavision UK and Ireland): I haven’t participated in a formal mentorship program, but there have been many people who have inspired me and provided guidance along the way. While I was in New York, I really saw how well production, camera and post teams looked after each other, helping make recommendations, asking for advice and supporting one another. That has always stayed with me as an example of bringing others along as you move forward.

Autumn Durald Arkapaw, ASC (cinematographer): I’ve been fortunate enough to have met very encouraging and supportive filmmakers throughout my career. People who gave me a chance when they could have easily hired someone with more experience. They saw my drive and determination and helped me along the way. Having confidence in your ideas was something I learned early on and was an important lesson I learned from my mentors.

I was fortunate enough to work with photographer and director Melodie McDaniel early on in my career. Her photography was so inspiring to me, and being able to be by her side and watch her run a set and capture her images encouraged me to be confident in my own abilities. She championed my work to others and ultimately gave me my first big commercial opportunity.

Quyen Tran, ASC (cinematographer): Mentorship plays a huge role in my journey as a cinematographer. Not only do I have mentors of my own, but I have mentees in both the Academy Gold and ASC programs. Mentorship is a two-way street — even though I'm there to provide experience and knowledge to younger filmmakers, I learn so much from conversing with my mentees. It's good to practice what you preach, in other words, and mentoring is a beautiful reminder of that.

Quyen Tran, ASC

Quyen Tran, ASC (photo by Chris Willard)

Sandy Ferguson (chief human resources officer, Panavision): Mentorship has been a large part of my career. I think it is key to being successful as a leader. You have to have the ability to be self-reflective and open to constructive critique on how you can improve. Not only have I worked for leaders who have mentored me, but I believe that all coworkers provide mentorship in one way or another. People constantly provide opportunities for learning, both in positive ways and in negative ways, both of which have helped me shape and define my own professional style.

Michele Channer (business development director, Panalux; managing director, Direct Digital and Island Studios): Mentorship is important. Despite having a varied career, I am conscious that there is always more to learn, and I would hope not to make the mistake of believing I have all the answers!

I've been lucky to work with a couple of people I truly admire and to this day can call for advice or use as a sounding board. It's not always leaders that make the best mentors. I've worked with some incredible people whose values and work ethic I admire and try to emulate.

Amy Vincent, ASC (cinematographer): John Lindley ASC was my first true mentor. I wasn’t sure I wanted to become a cinematographer, but I knew I wanted to become an intelligent, generous, honest, kind human being, like him. He taught me so much that it is impossible to put into words. I am forever grateful, and it inspires me to pay it forward and to continue to mentor others.

Mentorship is a huge part of my world, both on set and in the classroom. I have a film, A Nice Indian Boy, premiering at SXSW, and my amazing mentee of 12 years, cinematographer Veronica Bouza, has her first feature, The Gutter, premiering the day before at SXSW. Full circle!

Kira Kelly, ASC (cinematographer): Mentors are extremely important. I was really lucky to have found incredible mentors when I was just starting out who continue to be invaluable to me now. Being a mentor is a privilege. It’s exciting to see what wonderful things my mentees are up to.

Kira Kelly, ASC

Kira Kelly, ASC (photo by David Lee, courtesy of Netflix)

Johanna Gravelle (managing director, Panavision Canada): I have had both formal and informal mentorship relationships for most of my career, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without the guidance and support of these people. I also am lucky to have mentors in my personal life who provide me with tools and invaluable insights on work/life balance.

Mentorship relationships are incredibly important at all stages of one's career. I now find myself in a place where I can give back, and I just recently was involved in the Women in Film and Television mentorship program. I am also informally mentoring a young woman at the start of her career, and I find it very fulfilling to be able to share some of the things that my mentors have shared with me. 

Victoria Emslie (actor; founder and CEO, Primetime Network): Mentorship is one of those rare guiding lights at sea which can provide safe harbor and moments of reprieve. I believe there is no limit to when you should find your mentor and that everyone, no matter what their age, would benefit greatly from having a sounding board and someone who has walked the tightrope ahead of them.

Through Primetime, I have slipped into the role of being a mentor for members of my community, which has been incredibly rewarding. I look forward to finding my own beacon of light along the way and push for finding mentorship in groups of people, which is becoming more common in our interconnected web of advocacy.

Alice Brooks, ASC (cinematographer): I see mentorship and friendship as really the same thing. Over the years I often tried to force a mentorship, but like a great friendship, a mentorship is something that you can’t plan or try to control. Mentorship has a life of its own and is a truly beautiful thing. 

My mentor is Woody Omens, ASC. He was my professor at USC. It wasn't an instant mentorship but one that grew slowly for many years. It is now one of the greatest relationships of my life and one I will forever be grateful for.

Lesley Kantor (chief marketing officer, Panavision): Mentorship has been a huge resource for me throughout my journey. Any time I’ve decided to make a pivot, take a leap to something completely unfamiliar, or listen a bit too loudly to fear instead of upside, I’ve had the gift of leaning on trusted guides who help me zoom out and look at the big picture.

Mentors don't always come in the formal sense of the word. Sometimes it's someone who comes into your life at a specific moment with the advice you need most, and other times it's someone who follows along with you from one step to the next. You just have to be able to keep open-minded, humble, and patient with yourself in order for the experiences of mentorship to support you best.

Lesley Kantor

Lesley Kantor

Chris Wairegi (cinematographer and camera operator; founder, 600 Black Women): I’ve had mentors throughout my life since high school. My mentors have been invaluable to me personally and professionally. Without one or two of them, I may not have been bold enough to pursue my dream.

My first mentor was my high-school photography teacher Mr. Robert Coyne. Mr. Coyne was that type of straight-shooting wise person who I think any teenager would just kill to have guidance from. In Mr. Coyne's class I learned 35mm photography and darkroom development; I was hooked. I had a Film and TV teacher named Mr. Jones who let me make all kinds of wild short films for class and never kicked me out of the editing suite even though it meant he stayed late after school to keep the door open for me.

In college, my professors Rachel Jerome Ferraro and Doug Manchee were my biggest champions. My professors had to advocate for me to be able to pursue the photography and film degree I wanted, as the school had never had anyone achieve this dual studio degree before. In class, before and after, they were dependable voices of reason and insight. They both lived and worked in the arts for so many years; they had a commitment to their craft and a belief in breaking down walls and opening doors that pushed me.

In my professional career, my awe resides with women cinematographers like Kate Phelan, Selene Preston, and Gretchen Warthen, SOC who have always answered my questions, remembered me when they're hiring, and continue to be sources of support and inspiration. Without them, so many steps I've taken to arrive where I am may not have happened. Because of these women, I have traveled the world, joined the union, improved my operating and lighting techniques, and become a stronger leader on set.

Without the mentors I had each step of the way, I really wouldn't be here. Not everyone believes people can live their dream, but all these people showed me I can.

Mandy Walker, AM, ASC, ACS (cinematographer): In Australia I was very fortunate to have generous mentors in my career such as Ray Argall, John Seale [AM, ACS, ASC], Russel Boyd [AO, ACS, ASC], Dean Semler [AM, ACS, ASC] and Peter James [ACS, ASC]. They were always happy to impart their knowledge and advice.

Mandy Walker, AM, ASC, ACS

Mandy Walker, AM, ASC, ACS (photo by James Fisher)

Mara Morner-Ritt (general counsel and chief compliance officer, Panavision): I wish I’d had more mentors in the early stages of my career. I have had many lawyers from whom I learned — both what to do and what not to do! — but very few I consider mentors.

Polly Morgan, ASC, BSC (cinematographer): When I started off my career as a PA and then a camera assistant, I was always determined in my goal to become a cinematographer. This meant that I was always asking questions, and it was clear to the people I worked with that I wanted to learn. This has meant that I’ve been lucky to have incredible cinematographers sharing advice and helping me along my journey.

I don’t think I would be where I am today without the support of a handful of generous DPs who took the time and energy to help guide me and share their knowledge. Haris Zambarloukos, BSC helped encourage me to apply to AFI, which was the school he had attended. I worked alongside Wally Pfister, ASC on Inception, and he taught me so much on how to communicate with directors and work with crew. Michael Goi, ASC has been an amazing mentor over the years, writing a letter of recommendation for my Fulbright fellowship so I could pay for AFI and employing me to shoot additional photography for him on American Horror Story. He also proposed me for my ASC membership.

I think mentorship is an extremely important part of being a cinematographer, and I am thrilled that I am able to follow in my mentors’ footsteps and mentor young DPs today.

Laura Borowsky (vice president, business development, Light Iron): So many people have believed in me along the way and challenged me to get out of my comfort zone and take risks in my career. Mentors can be found everywhere in your workplace, and the wonderful thing is sometimes they are not who you think they might be, and that surprise interaction is what elevates your thinking and actions to the next level.

Laura Borowsky

Laura Borowsky